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TODAY

Tuesday, November 21

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Airbags

Pucks in Five

Donuts and Goose Eggs
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Moral Victories, or Just Another Close Loss?
After last week's successful West Coast swing, the Blackhawks were hoping to build some momentum into a late playoff run. Unfortunately, the week saw them running up against two of the hottest teams in the league in Pittsburgh and Vancouver (who they beat 3-0 on that road trip), as well as an always tough New York Rangers team. Predictably, the team went 0-3, though they managed to pick up a pair of points in taking the Penguins and Canucks to shootouts. The team had chances to win both games and played strongly, but in the end was unable to earn the extra point. The Blackhawks pushed their season record in shootouts to 0-7, an obvious testament to the lack of playmakers on the team.

This week sees the team battling division rivals Detroit on the road and St. Louis at home, with San Jose sandwiched between. The Sharks have been one of the strongest teams most of the season, but have struggled lately. With little hope for their season left, the Hawks can at least play spoiler to other teams while auditioning for roles next year.

Two: Lalime — Lookin' Good
Despite the losses, goalie Patrick Lalime looked solid in his second and third games of the season. Lalime's first game last week was a shutout against Vancouver, earning him a repeat performance in last Friday's home game, a 2-1 shootout loss. More surprising was his Sunday afternoon start against the Rangers, the first time in the past two years Nicolai Khabibulin hasn't played in back-to-back games. Lalime played well again in another 2-1 defeat. Coach Denis Savard reiterated after Monday's practice that Khabby is the starter and will see the bulk of the action for the rest of the season, but Lalime has showed he can pick up the slack if necessary, posting a .980 goals against average, and leaving Brian Boucher the odd man out of the rotation.

Three: Duncan Donuts
When Savard took over the Hawks in November, he promised a more aggressive forechecking system that would give his young defensemen more freedom to get involved in the rush. While these changes have been noticeable across the board, one player who has excelled the most is Duncan Keith. After watching Friday's home game and noticing Keith's presence on the ice, constantly cutting and spinning his way up ice on a rush, my ticket package companion Greg promptly christened him Duncan Donuts. With his play as of late looking like he's hopped up on their coffee, his freelance creativity on offense and solid defensive positioning deserves a shout-out.

Four: Peter's a Pred
With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the biggest rumored name swapped teams last week, with center Peter Forsberg being dealt from Philadelphia to Nashville. The trade positions the Predators as the frontrunners for the Stanley Cup and leaves other teams looking to play catch-up. With the Hawks facing Nashville only once more this season, the ramification for Chicago is small, and Forsberg's free-agent status at the end of the year makes him possibly only a short-term rental. Where this trade will affect the Blackhawks is setting the bar for the trade market. With playoff-bound teams looking for that extra push, vets with postseason experience, like Bryan Smolinski and Peter Bondra, could get a long look by teams needing depth. Whether the Hawks make a move in the next week remains to be seen though.

Five: If a Team Plays, But Doesn't Promote, Do They Exist?
I was intending to use my fifth point to get up to date on Chicago's newest team, the UHL Chicago Hounds. My plans to make it to a game have fallen through so far, so I wanted to touch base on a team that features many a homegrown player who's in it not for the money, but for the love of the game.

Unfortunately, with a website that's only been half updated all season, current records, rosters and stats aren't very forthcoming. Surfing over to the UHL website, I've found out the team is 18-31-3, for 39 total points and second to last place in the league, and Steve Cygan from Spring Grove, Illinois, is leading the team with 29 points. The Hounds recently did announce and promote $1 Wednesdays, where all hot dogs, beers and sodas are only a buck. Sundays are also free for all children 12 and under. It's a good opportunity to see minor-league hockey at an affordable price, but one also wonders whether the team is struggling to stay afloat, considering the number of other entertainment options offered at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

Bulls in Five

...is observing the All-Star Break. Back next week.
by Jason Maslanka

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About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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